Thoughts 27 Years in the Making

General / 27 September 2022

It’s funny, I rarely thought much of my age at 26, but now at 27 it comes to mind more often.  Maybe this is natural as one nears the proverbial three-zero, which I’m sure most reach with a feeling that they should be further along in some aspect of life.  However, I recognize these feelings are 1) to some extent inevitable in the “chasing a bar always out of reach” culture we live in, and more importantly 2) that my perspectives toward achievement play as much role in my contentment as the achievements themselves.  

I wonder what it would take to feel that I’m where I’m supposed to be at 30, and to not see any of the past as squandered (and yes, I hear all of you who are past 30 shouting about how young I still am…I can hear my own voice iterating the same message as I read this back years later haha).  On the surface level, I can think of arbitrary career milestones, but on a deeper level this contentment hinges on something else: namely a greater yielding to God’s timing, while leveraging the freedom of His grace to make the most of each day—first for the Kingdom, knowing all else follows suit. (Matthew 6:33) 

I've done alright with this inner-work, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a pressure to lean back into narrow mindsets about productivity and growth.  Of course, yielding to God’s timing has never meant I stop making art, but that I give up being motivated fear, which was very active in my early-to-mid 20’s.  Moving past that has been a great leap forward, but finding motivation apart from fear has proved more nebulous.  

Allowing myself time to explore my art for its own sake has helped, even if that means art production is sporadic.  And now, with having settled into a new studio and the cool of fall beckoning a creative air, I feel poised to return to larger projects again.  “Lean in more than ever before!” I tell myself as a sort of clarion call, but I’ve cried wolf many times with that alarm to no avail.  Preliminary sketches joined rabbled scrawlings and mindless doodles, and canvases remain unopened in their protective wrapping…

This is where old tendencies kick in, the ol’ “rise and grind” mentality that drove me into the faulty thinking I’m still recovering from.  Which brings me to the main question at hand: What is my motivation if I’m not creating from a place of striving and fear? 

I don’t expect to remove all fear from the art-making process.  Every piece is ripe with micro-fears: “Is my anatomy correct?”  “Is this composition going to pan out?”  “How am I going to make this lighting work?”  All those are expected and natural.  What is less so are the existential macro-fears of “If this piece doesn’t work out, am I falling behind?”  “If I’m not creating, what am I even doing?  What’s the point of me?”  And so on…

Let’s just nip those macro-fears in the bud now.  Here's what I wrote to myself after a contemplative morning:

1) You are not falling behind in life, for that trajectory only extends to this day given to you (and perhaps the rest of the week at most).  Anything beyond that is a fool’s attempt to control the unknown; to set lanes for the wind and expect them to abide accordingly.  Remember that even 1% growth compounds, but that it usually falls below your threshold of detection on any given day.

2) The whole “what if this piece doesn’t work out” thing is stupid.  Every piece offers its own set of lessons, and the art-making process is one of working and re-working until diminishing returns surface.  Don’t belittle your art into a finite binary of “pass/fail.”

3) To the question of what you’re doing if not creating, the answer is “so many things!”  You are being a friend, a son, a brother, a mentor, and a teacher. You are working for the sake of the Kingdom, showing love to those around you.  You enjoy your body’s health, take in the beauty of nature, and have fun!  You read and write and wonder and explore and question and ponder.  You cook really good meals and make a nice home to rest in.  You dream and reflect and seek the things beyond.  And most importantly, you live in the love of Jesus, offering your own love in return.  Your life is so full!  Bursting at the seams.  And all this without ever picking up a pencil, paintbrush, or stylus.  

Remember, your fundamental Purpose is not to create art, but to love and be loved.  Art is one meaningful way of doing that, but far from the only way.  Your art practice is comprised of your whole life, not just time in the studio.  Don’t make it any smaller than that.  And in all these things you were made for Christ, who encapsulates the truest Purpose you could find. (Colossians 1:16)

That is the point of you.  Keep going.


On Impact and Peace

General / 30 September 2021

While sharing a rooftop drink with a best friend, the topics of purpose, peace, and success were in deep dissection.  I lamented my recent frustration with how ambiguous purpose feels at times.  We questioned what metrics were in play beneath the surface; what would cause that sense of purpose to be so fleeting?  Then, my friend said the following:

"It makes sense...simply doing more isn't fulfilling; it's not about quantity of achievement, but quality.  Impact is personal."

I'd not thought about it that way before, and I'm still pretty shook.  So often I conflate my purpose with the tools used to actuate it.  Instead of making good on the fundamental purpose we all share—to love and be loved—I subconsciously make it about producing enough work, forwarding personal projects, etc.  

The problem is that when the tool becomes the purpose itself, success and peace hinge on producing "enough."  But because the tool has become both the means and end, there is nothing beyond it to inform when “enough” is met.

Instead, impact is personal and within relationships.  My creative ventures are just one means of expressing that purpose, but they're not the only way.  Every friend made, every person encouraged, every enlightening conversation has been as real of impact as I could ever hope to be a part of.

Anyway, those are the mental-swirlings of this week.  Lots of wonderful unlearning to do.  Hope you all are letting go of the things holding you back.


Is Originally Even Worth It?

General / 30 September 2021

Some thoughts on the topic of "originality," after a recent conversation with a new friend.

We talked about how much pressure there is to innovate, to do something not done before, to be "original" within one's craft. And yet, when the conversation shifted toward the content we most enjoy, originality hardly seemed a thought. Curious.

It seems to me that originality hinges on unknowable metrics and impossible standards. Here's what I mean: whether something comes off as original to any given person is wholly dependent on the viewer's knowledge and experiences. What to me seems original may, to another more versed in the matter, come off as old-hat or even cliche. It's entirely subjective.

Nothing is created or expressed in a vacuum. We all create as a product of our influences, and add to the existing history of our field. Doing something that's never been done before has no inherent value, aside from fleeting novelty. And sure, there is something to be said about being overly derivative. In such a case, one seeks to pass off the work of another as their own contribution to history, without allowing the material to be translated through their own perspectives. That's no good, but is a bit tangential to the conversation at hand.

Rather, true originality comes from something having come from your unique hand or voice. What is more individual than your experiences? There exist millions of pieces similar to those I've created, and the same goes for a million love songs, poems, woodworking projects, or loaves of ciabatta (insert your own craft too). 

The value of these things comes not in them being solely original, but in them being meaningful acts by a person who, by nature, is original—it's something you are, not something you do.